Lessons from the Storm

Sermon Transcript

[Video]

[Reporters]: We are feeling those gusts. We are feeling the rain. These are exactly the kinds of conditions that could actually create those tornadoes.

This is the 5 o’clock advisory. We are at 150. Now, we’re at 175 and Irma is approaching.

We are ready in Ft. Myers at this hour. Just behind me, there was a stop sign. It was a metal stop sign. It was embedded in concrete. It’s just been ripped out.

Standing in a storm is not a smart thing to do.

We’re not going to let go of it. Because, actually, it could just fly around.

I don’t need to state the obvious here, but we are officially in hurricane conditions.

Wow. The weather is getting bad.

Well, we do have one car.

Right now, we see the strength of a hurricane at category 5. Winds of 175 mph, and that pressure has dropped, now, as of 9:29.

We’re getting battered by a hurricane.

I’m holding in my hand parts of a plastic light.

I’m feeling the backwash of a jet engine blasted with a fire house. That’s why it’s just so dangerous. Tens of thousands of people are already without power in South Florida.

Seven million evacuees seeking safety from Florida to Georgia.

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and our mobile app — our “mobile app-ritioners.” So, we’re glad to have you all.

Anyway, I think we can all relate to that video that we just saw, because we all just went through Irma whether we were here or whether we left. We all sort of still feel the effects of it. One of the things I try to do as a pastor — and I think most of you all who come here realize this — is I try really hard to do what I feel my role as a pastor and teacher is. When you read in Ephesians 4, Paul says that there are certain people that God has placed in the church. They’re offices in the church. One of them is a pastor and a teacher. They’re to equip people to be able to do ministry.

So, every series that I do is really there to try to equip all of us so that we can be the Christians that God wants us to be. And one of the things that you realize as a pastor when you do speak is that sometimes, depending upon where people are at in their life, they really feel like you read their mail. It’s very often that somebody says, “Do you have a camera at my house? Is there somebody there looking over me?”

I’m like, “No. We don’t do that. We’re not the NSA. We’re Grace Community Church.”

But, the deal is that everybody feels a message speaks to them at different times. That’s because, as a general rule, all of us are sort of going and blowing in different areas and doing different things. So, even though I try to speak to everybody every single weekend, I realize that some people are going to get spoken to a little bit more profoundly depending upon where they’re at at that particular time.

However, I had an opportunity this weekend to speak to everybody, because we all sort of went through the same thing. I just felt like I needed to stop the series that we’re in and I felt like I needed to do a one-off message to really just speak to us. This is going to be a little bit of a different message than I normally do. This is just me speaking as a pastor to you all on some things that I saw the week before, during the storm and after the storm. I just felt like God was really speaking into my heart, “Chip, take some notes.”

So, I did. I just kept writing things down that I saw and that I experienced. So, I want to talk to you about that, because whether you know this or not, when you look at hurricanes themselves and how they affect us — you may not know this, but this is true — depression goes up significantly after a hurricane. Alcohol use, tobacco use and drug use goes up significant after a hurricane. Domestic violence goes up after a hurricane. It really affects us. And fatigue is felt by everybody after a hurricane, because we’re emotionally drained.

Many of us decided that, “Hey, we’re going to stay.” And then, the day of the hurricane, we felt like we’d maybe made a bad decision. Some of you all left and, as you were leaving and you were stuck in traffic, you know that you had made a bad decision. I’m just kidding. But, the reality is we all did what we thought was best for us and for our family. But, everybody felt the stress. Everybody felt the fatigue. And then, on top of all of that, not being able to get supplies that you needed and so on and so forth, and the barren shelves at the grocery store. I just want to say, can I get an amen? Have you noticed that during a hurricane nobody cares if they’re gluten free or not? Come on now. Just a note there. Just a little note. I’m from Kentucky. Give me a little grace.

But anyway, before I get into my message and some of the things that I learned — because I feel like these will be encouraging to us and inspirational — I want to start off with a funny little story that I heard. Because, I’m convinced more than ever that we need to learn to laugh. I’m telling you, laughter just sort of expels some of that junk that’s all up on the inside. And I just want to put this out there: None of my jokes are theological correct and, usually, none of them have anything to do with the message that I’m going to speak. They’re just there to sort of try to help you out and to put a little laughter into your heart, and I think you will really enjoy this one.

There are three boys; Gerald, Tommy and Donnie. They love their mom. I mean, I’m talking about they loved their mom. They all went to school. Believe it or not, all three were successful. So, they prospered very well. They got together and they said, “You know, mom’s so awesome. We just love mom so much. Let’s all do something great for our mom.”

They said, “I’m in.”

Gerald said, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to buy mom a house.”

They were like, “Wow. That’s awesome.”

He said, “Yeah. That’s what I’m going to do.”

So, Tommy said, “Well, if you’re going to buy her a house, I’m going to buy her a car.”

They all said, “Man, that’s great.”

Well, Donnie says, “Man, momma loves the Bible, doesn’t she?”

They’re like, “Man, she loves the Bible.

He’s like, “She can’t see though. She can’t see anymore. She can’t read the Bible. I found, online, that there is a parrot that you can buy that will speak the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation. I’m going to get that for her so she can listen to that parrot talk.”

They’re like, “Man. Okay. That’s a great idea.”

So, they all get mom their gifts. A couple of months go by and Gerald goes out to his mailbox. He has a little letter.

He opens it up and it says, “Dear Gerald,

“I’m so glad you’re my son. I love you so much. You have no idea how proud I am. You bought me this house. It’s way too big. But, I just want you to know I’m proud of you. Thank you for buying this house. But, it’s huge. I love you so much.

“Mom.”

Well, Tommy goes out to the mailbox. He opens it up.

“Tommy,

“I love you so much. I’m so glad you’re my son. It’s incredible. You bought me this car. I’m so appreciative that you bought me this car. But, it’s way too fancy. It’s got way too many bells and whistles. But, thank you so much for getting the car. I love you so much.

“Mom.”

Well, Donnie goes out to the mailbox and opens up the mailbox. It says, “Dear Donnie,

“I love you so much. So glad you’re my kid. So appreciative that you’re my son. I want you to know of all the gifts that everybody got, yours was the one that I enjoyed the most. I really appreciate that. I want you to know the chicken tasted great.”

That’s awesome, isn’t it? Alright. Let’s get to work here. If you would like, you can take notes. On the back of your bulletin, there’s this nice white space. If you’ve never been a note taker, maybe God has ordained that today is the day that you become a note taker.  Anyway, let’s get to work.

These are some things that I just sort of wrote down. Again, not my normal message here, but I do think that it will speak to all of us. The joy that I had as a pastor is knowing that what I was going to say would be applicable to every single person here, because we’ve all sort of endured this storm, Irma. So, let’s get to work here and just talk about some lessons from the storm. I think all of these will speak to us.

The first one is this: It doesn’t take much to expose how fragile our lives are. Right? Let’s be vulnerable here. Those of you that watch via the internet and mobile app too, let’s be vulnerable for a second. We don’t really like to think about how fragile our lives are. Fragility is not something that we like to think about. We like to think that we’re going to live for a long time. We make plans on vacations years out. You know? We plan for retirement. I mean, we really think we’re going to live a long time. There’s a certain arrogance to that, if you want to get honest, about thinking that we’ve got control of our lives like 10 years or 20 years down the road. We really live in a fragile word. But, we don’t really like to deal with it that much. We don’t like to talk about it that much. We just sort of do our thing. We just sort of get busy in life and whatever.

But, then, all of a sudden, something like Irma comes along and you see the anxiety that’s going on, the lack of food, the gas shortages and all of that; the fear, the power outages. All of a sudden, you realize, “Man, my little bubble could be gone in an hour. Just gone.”

All of a sudden, we’re like, “Whoa, man. We’re fragile.”

We don’t like to think about it that much, but it really is the truth. The Psalmists realized that about it. You and me realize that about humanity. It says, “For He...” — that would be God — “...knows our frame.”

He knows our skeletal systems. He knows who we are. He knows everything about us. He remembers that we’re dust. It says, “For man’s days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”

And we go, “Yeah. That’s so true.”

Like James says, life’s a vapor. But, we don’t really think about those things until we have things like Irma, and they remind us of those things. When we get reminded of those things, we usually do one of two things. It’s usually the first one, not the latter one. It should be the latter one as believers. But, even as believers, we do the first one. And the world does the first one. What happens is life is either terrifyingly fragile or it’s a reminder that this isn’t our final destiny. Oftentimes, we fall prey to the terrifyingly fragile. You saw it at gas lines and the way people did things and the franticness of stuff, fighting over water bottles and all of this.

It’s like, if this world is all that there is, then you’d better get everything you can get at Publix. I mean, that’s the bottom line. You know? Where shopping’s not a pleasure during Irma. Right?

But, the deal is that as Christians, when we see the fragility of life, that’s when our hope and our faith is supposed to kick in and we realize that our security’s not in our little world that we’ve created, but our security’s in God. Our security is in Jesus. Whether you know this or not, the Bible tells us these things. It’s very clear. Cain kills Abel in the first part of Genesis. And the very first thing that Cain does is he founds a city. He creates a city. The writer of Genesis tells us that he has the lyre and the harp and all of these things, tools and different things. All of those tools that you read about are the same tools and the same instruments that will later on be talked about when the construct the Tabernacle.

What the writer’s telling you is that Cain has a city, but God’s not in that city. He’s not there. That’s why when He calls Abraham in Genesis 12, because it’s set up that way in a literary way, Abraham is asked to do something. He’s asked to leave his city. He’s asked to take a journey. And by the time we get to Hebrews, we understand why. He’s looking for the heavenly city. He’s not putting roots down here that can get his allegiance off of God. His roots aren’t here.

And they do, don’t they? The roots of this world, they’ll get in real deep and everything bothers us. Look, I’m going to be honest: I don’t know what you all were worried about, but I was worried about there not being a church. I mean, my house is whatever. I mean, I love my kids. I do. But, I was worried about the church not being here. I was thinking, “Man, if we don’t have a church and a hurricane comes through here and blows everybody’s houses away, ain’t nobody going to show up to church. And, all of a sudden, all of this great stuff we’ve been doing...”

And then I started going, “No. Hold on, Chip. You can’t think that way. God’s bigger than that.”

But, I can tell you one thing: Monday morning, first thing, I was in my car before the sun was up and I was here in the church making sure that the windows were still here and the sound was still on and I was running around going, “Woohoo!”

I was loving it, man. I was so happy we were going to have church this weekend, because that’s a big deal. Thank God we can, right? Thank God we live in a country where we can gather in freedom and have AC and all the great things that we have. We need to be thankful. But, what happens is oftentimes we sort of get into the terrifying part of this rather than the, “Hey, you know what? God’s got my back. My trust is in that heavenly city.”

In fact, Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven. It’s not even here. I’ll tell you what: If we acted more like that on a regular basis, we’d be so much better off. Right? So, sometimes these storms remind us that.

I love what C.S. Lewis says. It’s so appropriate. He says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world could satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.”

You know, maybe you’re here today and maybe — and I get it. Nobody’s got any stones to throw or anything like that. But, maybe you came here today and you haven’t been to church for a long time and you’re like, “I need to give God a salute. My house wasn’t destroyed. I need to show up to church and just do that thing.”

Let me tell you something: You’re not here by accident. God’s not looking for a salute. God’s looking to have a relationship with you and me. He really wants to partner up with you and me. He wants to really be the God that you find in Jesus, that all of the outcasts and all the people that were on the margin of society, they found dignity and value from Jesus. They wanted to be around Him. I just want to encourage you that in the midst of these storms, there’s a lot of lessons that we can learn that maybe we can take with us after the storm that maybe we weren’t thinking about before the storm. But, maybe we can start to apply them in our lives.

One of those would be that the fragility of our lives should make us realize, “Man, we need to get our eyes on God.”

He is our security. He is the only place we should be looking. You don’t look to your religion. You don’t look to your works. You don’t look to your house. You don’t look to any of that stuff. You look to Jesus. As long as your eyes are on Jesus, you can walk on the water in the midst of the storm. As soon as we take our eyes off of Jesus, we’re in trouble. So, let’s learn that lesson and apply that to our lives.

Second thing that I learned along the way, and I hope that we all can see this, is that trees teach us some great truths. I got up early on Monday and was able to drive around. I’m a Bible guy. I didn’t go to FFA when I was in high school. You know? I wasn’t one of those agricultural dudes. But, I started looking at the trees and I was like, “Man, this is sort of interesting.”

These are beautiful trees. If you just would stand them up, they were beautiful. They looked mature. They looked all together. And they were over because they didn’t have deep roots. That made me go, “Wow. That’s pretty profound. That’s pretty cool.”

So, what did I do? I’m a nerd. I started reading about trees. I was like, “This is cool.”

So, I’m reading about trees. Because, you either eat junk food or you study trees in a hurricane. Anyway, I’m doing the thing here and I’m reading about trees. I don’t know how I got there. It was either God or a bad burrito, but I got onto this thing here where I started realizing there was this experiment that was done in Arizona many, many years ago. It was called the Biodome Experiment. What they did is they had this controlled environment where everything was perfect. All the animals and the people and the agricultural stuff and the trees, food and everything was perfect. It was perfectly controlled.

In fact, it looked something like this. This is actually the Biosphere-2. It’s the next iteration of the Biodome. But, that’s sort of what it looked like. I got there while reading about trees because it led me to something that was an excerpt from one of the journals of the Biodome. This is what it said. This was the profound moment for me. Maybe it will be profound for you too.

It said, “After several months, everything seemed to be going alright. However, there was one exception: When the trees grew to a certain height, they would topple over.”

They were like, “Why is this happening? Why are the trees falling over? I mean, this is a perfect environment.”

Like an environment we’d like to have. A perfect environment. So, they started talking and they’re all scientists. They think, “You know what? We have forgotten something in our perfectly controlled environment that the trees need to be able to learn to grow tall, and that’s the wind.”

See, when the trees don’t have the wind, what happens is the roots don’t work right and they just fall over. I started thinking, “Man, that’s so good.”

Because, we try so hard to not have storms in our lives. We try so hard to keep the winds from the storms in our lives. But, the winds are the things that create in you and me the things that give us the roots to stand up in the midst of the difficulties. And I even went further. I’m like, “This is so good, man. What can I find out about hurricanes?”

I started looking up hurricanes. I’m like, “There’s got to be some good truth about hurricanes.”

It was another mind-blowing thing for me. I didn’t realize this, but hurricanes are needed. They’re part of the world. They’re like the circuit breaker for the tropics. What happens is as heat builds up, the hurricanes dissipate that heat that would destroy some of the tropics. By dissipating that heat, they keep the earth in a great situation. Not only that, they’re the greatest desalinization plant that there is ever. They take all of that saltwater and they make it into freshwater and they dump it on places where there’s droughts. Not only that, but they blow away all of the dead stuff so new life can emerge. And here we are rebuking the hurricane and telling the hurricane to go back from the pit of hell from which it came and all of that stuff. And, in reality, these things really are part and parcel of the world to keep the world in balance.

It’s like we want that controlled environment, but in that controlled environment there’s no wind. And if there’s no wind, we don’t really develop the right way. Paul saw that when he wrote to the Corinthians. He said, “Listen: We don’t lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

He was able to say, “Look: On the outside here, there’s things that we see. But, on the inside, there’s something else going on.”

In other words, there’s something deeper. It’s not just what we see. There’s things that are going on that maybe are more important. I don’t know about you all, but I know that my outer self is wasting away. We went to some dive the day after the hurricane. You’ll go anywhere to get something to eat, won’t you? Seriously. It was crazy. Wendy’s had a line that was all the way out. I’m like, “Wendy’s ain’t that good, but they’re the only place open.”

And you know it’s bad when the Waffle House is shut down. It’s like, “Seriously?”

When the Awful House is not open, it’s not good. Anyway, we go in and the lady is serving us. I’ve got four kids. We have six. I’m up to four. I’m getting better. I’m almost there to where I can do the Mindy thing and take all of them. But, I’m at four right now. That’s just where I’m at. Maybe by the time they get to college I’ll be able to do all six.

Anyway, I’ve got four of them there and I’m eating and the lady comes up and she goes, “These kids are so cute. Are these your grandchildren?”

I’m like, “Come on, lady.”

Man. Come on. So, the outer self is wasting away. It was. But, listen to what Paul says here. This is important. He says, “For this light, momentary affliction...”

And that’s ridiculous. Paul was getting beaten with rods. He was getting stoned — not like they do in Colorado. Like, real rocks. Here’s what he was able to say about this. He says, “Preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

He’s like, “The difficulties of life, the winds, the storms — don’t look at them through the negative lens, but through a positive lens. They’re doing things in you and me that we can’t even see right now. We don’t look at the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

It’s like, “Wow, man. Those trees are something else.”

Now, about this time — I know it’s starting to get a little heavy. Everybody’s thinking, “Whoa. This needs to have a little comic relief.”

This is the third thing here that I learned. It has nothing to do with anything biblical or spiritual, but it is an absolute truth that I learned from the storm, and I bet you did too. There’s a direct correlation between waiting for a hurricane and acquiring terrible eating habits. Amen, right? Come on, now. You know that’s true. I remember I came in the day before the hurricane and I had donuts, potato chips, Snickers bars and Kit Kats. Mindy looked at me.

“What are you thinking?”

I’m like, “Hey, it’s party time around here.”

My little girl, Esther, found the pantry. So, we’d go in there and she’d have the goldfish thing open, the potato chip thing open, and the Little Debbie thing open, sitting on a stool eating. And we’re like, “No, no, no.”

And she’s developed this thing. I don’t know where she got it from. She’s got this thing. Two minutes. It’s like you’re getting ready to put her to bed.

“Esther, you need to go to bed.”

“Two minutes.”

So, I’d open up the pantry and she’d be in there, food all over herself, everything on the floor. I’d say, “Esther, you need to come out.”

She’d say, “Two minutes.”

It was great. Can I say this, too? Can we forever ban, during the next hurricanes, these two words: Hunker down? I rebuke that. It just needs to go. “Hunker down” needs to go. In fact, I put out on Facebook that we should use a Kentucky saying, that we’re dug in like a tick on the back of a billy goat. That’s the better way to say it. But, hunker down. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a picture of me at my house hunkering down and eating some snacks. It was this one here. I hunkered down and I ate a few snacks. So, there you go.

Okay. Let’s get back to spirituality here. We need to laugh sometimes. Okay. Here we go. The fourth thing I learned is that race, wealth and/or gender mean nothing in a hurricane. Did you notice that? I mean, seriously. When you’re in your car and it’s 180mph wind and you’re trying to get out of your car into someone’s house, when they open that door, you don’t get to the porch as the wind’s blowing and say, “How’d you vote?”

You don’t do that, right? We don’t do that stuff. We don’t. It’s so interesting that before the hurricane, we could point fingers at all this stuff and race and gender and wealth and all this stuff. I mean, we all got all these things going on. Hurricane hits and guess what? People are just people. They’re just people. It’s like, “Can I help you? Can I do something? What can I do?”

Just people. Maybe we ought to learn to live like we do right after hurricanes from this point forward. See, the Proverbs writer says this. He says what he says. He says, “The rich and the poor have a common bond: The Lord is the maker of them all.”

That goes for everything. Isn’t it amazing when we treat people as people? Not as groups. Not as certain things. I think that we see that after a hurricane. People are people. And do you know what? They are. And God wants us to see people as people. Can I tell something to you? As much as we’re trying to meet physical needs and get water and generators to people and all that stuff, can I tell you something? The biggest need that people have is the need of Jesus. When you and I stop seeing people as people, we’re going to shirk our responsibility or preaching the Gospel to every single person, because they’re in more desperate need of Jesus than they are a generator.

Don’t walk out of here and go, “Chip doesn’t think anybody ought to have power.”

That’s not what I said. Look, I’m going to go ahead and confess AC is an idol for me. I’m going to tell you right now. I just want you to know that. I confess that. Y’all can pray for the pastor. I like my AC. I realized I love my AC. In fact, I needed to repent a little bit on that one. But, can I also say something? For those people that maybe have lost whatever — and I say this not in a way to be snarky, but I say this in a way to just enlighten us. For people who don’t have power, can I tell you something? We still live better than 99% of the rest of the world. Let’s remember that.

The fifth thing I learned — and this was an interesting thing for me — is the lack of being able to receive help demonstrates our culture’s belief in self-sufficiency. I was amazed at how many people we would try to help and would say, “I don’t need it.”

And I get it. They were thinking, “There’s other people that maybe have more need than I have,” but it was interesting to see how people would turn that down. And I’m guilty of that a lot. I like to give. I don’t usually like anybody to do anything for me. But, can I just give you a truth? Just let this settle in your heart here.

When someone’s trying to help us and we don’t let them, we rob them of their blessing. Just take that in. Just drink that in for a little bit.

Next thing here. This is a good one here. The complainers were miserable and the servers were full of joy. I’m going to leave that one right there. I’ll just leave it there. You know? People on Facebook: “I can’t believe FPL and Duke Energy.”

Listen: They were miserable. Miserable. But, the people that were out serving, they were joyful. I’ve said this over and over again and I’m going to say this until the day I die: If you’re not loving God and loving others, you’re not going to be successful in life. You’re not going to have joy. You’re not going to have peace. That’s just the way it works. When it’s all about you and me, it’s the black hole of selfishness and it’s all about what it is about us, we’re going to be miserable. I’m telling you. You are going to be miserable. But, when we learn to serve others and reach out to others, that’s when things happen for you and me. It’s just the truth.

In fact, just so I can liven you up, because some of you all maybe complain or you’re without power or whatever, I’m going to tell you another funny story. Do you want another funny story? Here’s another funny story.

Two ladies. They loved each other to death. Great, great ladies. Older ladies. They both died and they ended up in heaven. They were standing there before Peter and Peter came out and he said, “Hey, ladies. Heaven’s better than advertised. This place is absolutely incredible. You have no idea what’s in store for you. But, there’s just one rule. It’s crazy. Sort of a quirky rule. But, it’s the rule of the Lord. It’s what He wants to do. He’s got these special ducks throughout heaven. What He doesn’t want you to do — He wants you to pay attention. Don’t step on any of them ducks when you’re in heaven.”

They’re like, “Okay.”

He says, “Everything else is great.”

So, they’re walking along one day and one of the ladies steps right on one of them ducks. It makes a horrible sound. She’s like, “Oh my gosh. I stepped on a duck.”

Immediately a couple of angels come and they handcuff her to the ugliest guy she has ever seen in her entire life. Like, that must be punishment. And the other lady’s like, “Man, I’m going to make sure I watch where I’m going.”

So, about a week goes by. She’s feeling pretty good because she hasn’t stepped on any duck or anything like that. And, all of a sudden, a couple of angels come over and handcuff her to Fabio. I mean, this guy is absolutely gorgeous. She’s like, “Yes! This is awesome.”

He’s like, “Yeah. I shouldn’t have stepped on a duck.”

So, there you go. See, I can be funny. It’s good to laugh. It’s like a medicine. Here’s the last one. This was a moment for me. Think through this one with me. The downed palm branches remind us of an important truth. I want you to follow me on this. I’m a Bible nerd. I mean, I’m a professor. Somebody told me last night, “You know your shoe’s untied?”

I’m like, “I probably don’t even have socks that match. What are you talking about?”

Anyway, everything I do in life I sort of filter through Bible stuff and theology stuff and all of that. Man, I had a profound moment. I was driving around. Whenever there’s a storm, even if it’s not a great storm, the palm fronds are always laying all over the ground. That’s just the way it is here in Florida. As they were laying there, I started thinking, “Hmm. You know, when Jesus came into Jerusalem, they threw the palm branches down in front of Him. They were laying on the ground.”

Then I started thinking, “Wow, man. That’s so cool. The palm branches still go before the Lord even when He comes in the storm. They still bow before the majesty of our Lord.”

And I started thinking, “There’s more here. There’s more here. There’s more here.”

Okay. Jesus goes into Jerusalem and goes through the storm of His body being buffeted and hung on a cross. But, just a few days later, there was resurrection. I was like, “Man, that’s cool.”

When we see the palm branches on the ground, that means resurrection isn’t that far away. Man, when I woke up on Monday, it was beautiful. I mean, it was like the best day ever. Mindy and I were like, “This is incredible.”

I mean, it was awesome. We didn’t have power for a while. But, man, the kids were outside running around. So, like God, the storms come through and then there’s new beginnings. I started thinking, “Man, if we could ever get that approach to life, that instead of looking at the negatives, to look at the stories that are going to be written.”

Listen: I’ve never been so proud of our church. I mean, there have been people that have assembled together to go do things. I mean, there was a group that assembled earlier in the week. There was a group that assembled yesterday. There’s people on Facebook saying, “Hey, if you need a shower or a place to stay, come over.”

I saw you all reaching out. I saw young adults on their young adult page helping each other out. I saw people taking off shutters for people and doing good deeds. And I thought, “Man, this is so awesome.”

If we could understand that these storms provide you and me incredible opportunities to go do great things for God, it’s like the greatest set up. And we think of things as setbacks. The greatest setbacks in our lives are the greatest setups for the glory of God. We have an awesome opportunity to write a great story right now about being intentional neighbors as a church that goes out and does all kinds of great things. There were people on Facebook from our church that were down in Ft. Myers doing stuff. I’m going, “Man, that is what it’s all about.”

These people are seizing the moment. They realize, “Forget the downed palm branches right now. Forget that. Because, what I know is going to happen not too shortly from the point of the downed palm branches is that there’s going to be resurrection and new beginnings.”

And I believe that for every single one of you no matter if you’re still without power, no matter if stuff’s going on. I believe that God has an opportunity out of this for you to have a new beginning. Some of you all learned to pray over the last week. Come on now. You know that. You did. You’re like, “I haven’t prayed in six months. But, man, I got down to business and learned to pray.”

Some of you all know your neighbors’ names and you didn’t even know them. Think about that. I mean, God provides awesome opportunity. So, let’s seize that.

So, what I want to do here to end the service is I want to take a moment and do what we need to do. We need to pray. I’m going to do two things. Number one: I want to thank God for His goodness. I want us to learn to thank God that even in the storms that come, there are things that God’s doing that we need to pay attention to and learn those lessons from the storms. The storms don’t have to be all bad.

The second thing I want to do is I want to pray that God will just continue to burn those two words, “intentional neighbors,” into all of our hearts. They’re not just something that we read on something that’s hanging on a wall, but they’re something that embodies the DNA of this church. That we would get out and get after it for the glory of God. So, let’s just pause for a moment and let’s have a time of corporate prayer.

Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You as the pastor of this church and I come to You, also, as a member of this church. We come to You together as Your body, Lord. Everybody here, we all come together in prayer. Lord, the first thing that we want to do is we just want to thank You for Your goodness. Lord, so often we don’t see Your goodness in the midst of difficulties. Lord, so often we just want to live in those controlled environments and don’t understand that the winds and the storms actually have massively positive effects on our lives.

Lord, there’s so much about You that we don’t understand. You are so beyond our minds. You’re so beyond our understanding. You’re so beyond our faculties. Lord, we just love You. Because, Lord, we believe with all of our hearts that You really are a good God. Even times when we don’t see it or we don’t understand, we believe, God, one day when we stand with You, You’re going to put things together in a way — the mosaic of the way You’ve created this world and ordained this world. Lord, the way You’ve stitched things together is going to blow us away.

Lord, everything that we thought probably is going to be different than the way we envisioned it. So, Lord, we just bow. You truly are God and we love You. Lord, we want You in this place. We want You in our lives. We want You in this church. Lord, we don’t want You like the Laodicean Church, knocking on the door and wanting to come in. Lord, we want You here. We want You with us. We want to fellowship with You.

God, You knock on the door of the Laodicean Church because You want to come in and fellowship with them. Lord, we want You to fellowship with us. We want to know You, Lord, not only in the power of Your resurrection, Lord, but in the fellowship of Your sufferings.

Lord, we want to know You in every way. Lord, secondly, I pray that You would burden this church to continue to have a spirit of wanting to be intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Lord, not because we’re doing something to make You happy with us, but we’re doing these things as a result of what You’ve done for us because You were that intentional neighbor for us. We want to return the favor and be intentional neighbors to everyone else here in Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch.

So, Lord, I pray that You would help us to start a new chapter, a new part of the book where this church rises up in ways that we never could even imagine and infiltrates this community, doing good and massively good things. Lord, to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Lord, help us to learn from the storms. Help us to learn these lessons that we need to learn.

And Lord, help us to continue to become more like Your Son. Lord, we just love You and we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus’ name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Can we give the Lord a hand clap? He’s just a good God. I just want to say here, getting ready to close, that I’ve never been more proud. I am just humbled and fortunate to be able to get to be the pastor of such a great church. I love each and every one of you. I’m serious. Saturday night, the storm was going through and I was missing being here. And Sunday was miserable. I was like, “Man, there’s three services that we’re missing.”

I really was. I was like a cow that when they open up the gate the thing just goes jumping and skipping. I walked in here and everything was intact and there wasn’t any water damage. I was like, “Yes!”

I mean, I was so happy. I love each and every one of you all. I really believe the best days of our church are ahead of us. I really believe hold on and strap in, because I believe God’s going to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think, and I know He’s going to do that because of the power that works within you and me. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you and me, and He’s going to do great things.

So, let’s go out and be intentional neighbors. Let’s thank God. He’s a good God, isn’t He? He’s just a good God. Let’s pray and we’ll get out of here.

Dear Heavenly Father, we just pray that as we leave here today that You would lead, guide and direct us and continue to watch over us and protect us. I pray, Lord, that You would continue to birth within our church a heart for You, a heart for a genuine relationship with You, and help us, Lord, to be passionate about reaching the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. We love You, we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a hand clap and tell Him you love Him. I’ll see everybody soon. God bless everybody.

Hurricane Weekend Devotional - Part 3

Devotional Transcript

Hey, Grace, and anybody who may be watching this. This is Pastor Chip coming to you from the Hurricane Irma Update Center, throwing God’s Word in the midst of the storm to give people encouragement and peace.

I want to read you a passage of Scripture that often isn’t read. Many people don’t even know it exists. But, I think it’ll be an encouragement to you and me. The Apostle John had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos for his Christianity, and he wrote the book of Revelation during this time. I think there’s a couple of things that he says that are important, and I want to read them to you.

In Revelation 1:9, John says, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,”

What’s interesting here is he doesn’t think that just being part of the kingdom is all roses. Sometimes there is tribulation; there is difficulty. So, he lays that out at the very beginning to say, “Hey, I want to encourage you all that are going through difficulties that the Kingdom of God does have tribulation, the Kingdom of God does have difficulties.”

He’s partnering. Every Christian partners with everybody going through these difficulties. But, in just a few short verses later, he says something that is absolutely powerful for you and me during the midst of the storm.

He says, “When I saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead.

He was stunned. The radiance of Jesus put him on his face. He just laid before Jesus. But, it says, “Jesus laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hell.’”

Imagine that. Imagine you falling in front of Jesus and Him taking that nail-scarred hand that had gone through all of the endurance of the cross and gone through all the sufferings that He had gone through, meeting John on the Isle of Patmos in his suffering, connecting with him through the suffering he had had and saying, “Listen, it’s going to be okay. You can have peace because I’ve conquered everything that could conquer you.”

So, let’s take heart about that. We’re not on the Isle of Patmos. We’re not struggling for our Christianity right now. But, we are in the midst of the storm and we are in the midst of questions, doubt and fears. What I want us to understand is that the same Jesus that has that nail-scarred wrist that laid His hand on John is here to lay His hand on you right now in the midst of the storm and to bring peace to you.

Listen: I want you to understand that Jesus is going to bring you through this storm. No matter what happens to you and me, it’s not the end of the story. If He’s conquered Death and Hell, we have nothing to fear, not even Death itself.

So, let God speak to you in the midst of this storm. Let Him bring you peace and comfort and enjoyment in the midst of this storm. Draw to Him. Draw near to Him. Seek Him right now and I promise you you’ll find the peace that surpasses all understanding will fill your hearts and minds and will guard your hearts during this time.

I look forward to seeing you very soon next weekend as we worship the Lord. Stay safe. This will be my final update from the Hurricane Irma Update Center. I look forward to seeing everybody on the flip side.

Hurricane Weekend: The Wind In Your Sails

Sermon Transcript

Well, hello, Grace family — and that includes all of you who watch online or via our mobile app. Our mobile “app-ritioners.” I hope this message finds you well wherever you are. As most of you know, we decided to cancel services this weekend due to Hurricane Irma. My prayer is that when you hear this message, you’re out at the beach or maybe you’re at a pool enjoying a wonderful weekend here in Sarasota, and secretly thinking, “Man, they made a terrible decision to cancel church services this weekend.”

That would be the best thing I could ever think of hearing this weekend, and I will gladly accept your criticisms if that is the case. But the decision to cancel services was tough for me. I was raised on a farm in Kentucky and every fiber of my being was, “We’re going to power through. We’re going to power through.”

But the reality side eventually set in. As a staff, we erred on the precautionary side with the overall church community in mind. We didn’t want anyone in our church to feel torn between services or doing what was best for their safety. We knew the volunteers would be in short supply. We also knew that it wasn’t fair to ask people to do more than what they probably could do, especially in the inclement weather. On top of that, we lease a building. The company that we lease from was pretty clear that it wasn’t exactly excited about anybody being in the building during a hurricane watch or a hurricane warning.

So, all of that said, we made the best decision that we could, and I really do believe everybody understands that and supports our decision. If you don’t support that decision, you can take it up with Pastor Tom. In fact, all complaints that you have can go to him, because he likes them. No, seriously. All jokes aside, I didn’t want anyone to go here at Grace without some sort of spiritual nourishment for the weekend. So, I’ve recorded this devotional and I sincerely hope that it speaks to you on many levels at this particular time.

For us Floridians, we’re aware of hurricanes. You don’t have to live here long to hear about them. We know that damage comes from the two main sources. The flooding, which is the water, and from the winds. What makes this particular hurricane so special is the sustained winds. Currently we have between 180-185mph sustained winds. Knowing how hard Irma’s winds are and the damage that can be created from that brings a lot of fear, trepidation, and fills us with a lot of all kinds of difficulties and angst in our lives.

So, what I want to do is I want to ask you a question. What wind fills your sails? Is it the winds of fear? Is it the winds of the hurricane? Or is it the winds of the Spirit, the winds of Jesus, the winds of peace? Whatever the winds are that are in your sails will be what powers your travel. So, will it be fear or will it be faith? They do truly lead to different outcomes and different lifestyles.

We’re going to come back to that a little bit later. But, for now, I want you to think about that. What really fills your sails on a regular basis? So, here’s the deal: Watching the news and social media over the past few days, it was vividly apparent to me that, once again, we live in a society full of fear. Fear drives the sails of many boats in our society today. Maybe you’re hearing this right now and you’re full of fear. Maybe hit has to do with Irma. Maybe it has to do with other things. There’s a lot going on right now in our world, and I know that. Those things really lead to many of us feeling scared, uncertain, having doubts and having fears.

I don’t want to make you feel bad if you’re fearful. What I want to do is I want to help you. Fear is so rampant in our world today, and I want to speak to that. See, we’re followers of the Prince of Peace. We know the end of the story. And, far from giving in to the fear of the world, we’re to be people of peace. Easier said than done, right? I agree. Well, let me address some of these things and hopefully help you in this area of your life.

I want to read a couple of Scriptures and make a quick comment on them, and then I want to tell you a story from the Bible. I’m hopeful and prayerful that even though this is coming through the medium of video, God will speak to you wherever you’re at in a profound way.

The writer of the epistles that we call the Hebrews said that Jesus, through death, would destroy the one that has the power of death — that is the devil — and deliver all of those who, through fear of death, were subject to lifelong slavery. This passage is found in Hebrews 2:14-15. What the writer is simply saying is that many people fear death. This is true. People fear for their lives. What is the basis of this fear? Well, it’s the uncertainty of death.

“What happens when I die? Is this it?”

There’s a basic instinct within all of us to want to protect our lives. The writer says that we’ve been slaves to this type of thinking. A slave to fear over the uncertainty of death. But, what if you knew for sure — like, for sure — that death wasn’t the end? What if you really knew there was another side? That’d be a game changer, wouldn’t it be? And that’s what the writer’s saying. He says that you and I don’t have to fear death because Jesus defeated death through His resurrection.

Another Scripture I want to read to you is from 1 John 4:18. John tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. What does this mean? At the very least, it’s gesturing to us that when we experience a perfect love, then fear is gone. Think about that. When you fear something, it isn’t because you’re experiencing a perfect love at that moment. We fear someone won’t like us or love us if they really knew us. Right? But, if someone really knew everything about you and still loved you, what would that do? What if you knew that God loved you so much and that your eternity was settled? What if you knew that you were God’s child and not even death could end your life?

Maybe we would live different lives than we do. Maybe we would be like the writer of the Hebrews that says that we don’t have to live in slavery to fear anymore. We don’t have to live that way. Or, like John says, that we don’t have to live in fear because perfect love casts it out.

So, what I want to do this weekend for you specifically, and for our church, is speak into wherever you’re at in your life right now. You may be watching this and you may be going through the middle of a storm. You may have all kinds of doubts and questions and fears. You may have difficulties in your life, your marriages, your finances. You may be wondering what’s going to happen to your house. You may have all of those things. So, I want to sort of look at a story that Jesus told, a passage that Luke tells us about Jesus that, in my opinion, speaks to the love of God for His people in such a way that I’m hoping that it’ll do exactly what John just said in 1 John 4:18, that it’ll cast out any fear that you and I may have. Because, I’m a firm believer that when we understand perfect love, there is no place for fear in our lives.

So, to do that, what I want to do is look at a couple of verses at the beginning of Luke 15 and make a couple of commentaries. I hope this really speaks to you this weekend.

Luke says, in Luke 15:1, “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him.”

I remember reading this for the first time and thinking to myself, “That’s a much different picture of Jesus than what I’ve been taught.”

I thought He was a preacher that ran sinners off. I thought sinners would run from Jesus. But, that’s not what this says. This is those on the margins. This is those furthest from God. They were the ones that were drawn to Him. They wanted to hear what He had to say. Don’t you sort of want to know why? Why didn’t they turn away? Why didn’t they run? Why’d they really want to hear what Jesus had to say?

Well, Luke has us thinking. And we should be thinking when we read Scripture. Then he drops the bomb. He’s just told us that tax collectors, the people that were on the far margins of society, and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. In other words, they wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. And then Luke drops this bomb in the middle of this situation. Here’s what he says:

“And the Pharisees and the scribes...” — the religious people and the church people — “...grumbled,” — that’s what they did, they grumbled — “saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

Now we get the religious people in the mix. The good, church-going folk. We find them grumbling. The local church people are threatened by Jesus and His way of dealing with those far from God. Shouldn’t He tell them to clean up their act? Shouldn’t He reprimand them for the way that they live? Instead, they want to come near and hear what He has to say. So, what do the religious people do? They grumble. They grumbled like those who opposed Moses. Luke wants us to know that. That’s why he used that word “grumbling.” Like the people in the Old Testament, the Children of Israel, that grumbled against Moses, the religious people are grumbling against Jesus.

It always amazes me how often we, as church-goers, can be so much like the Pharisees. We grumble when God doesn’t do it the way that we think He should do it. The Pharisees had their way of doing the God thing. Jesus had a different way. Their way was to keep the rules, live right and definitely be holy and separate from the sinners. Jesus doesn’t fit that paradigm. So, what do they do? They grumble. They don’t like the fact that Jesus welcomes sinners into fellowship.

“He eats with them. Doesn’t He know that He’s defiled when He does that?”

So, now we have the tension that Luke sets up. We have the sinners and the tax collectors that are drawing near to hear Jesus. And we have the church folk, the religious people, the Pharisees and the scribes coming together and grumbling. So, what does Jesus do? He tells a story. What a story it is. We’re not even going to finish the whole story. We’re just going to start the story here for this devotion, because it’s so overwhelming and it shows you the love of God that He has for you and me. It really sets things straight between the lost and the found in Jesus.

So, here’s what Luke says: “So he told them a parable.”

He spoke to them. That was the Pharisees. He decides to tell the religious people a story. Maybe it’s a story we need to hear. Here’s what the story says:

“‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?’”

This is a sizzling story. We have the lost, we have the found, and we have Jesus. Obviously, the lost are the sinners Jesus is welcoming in. The found are the religious people. But, He’s flipping everything on its head. See, the Pharisees considered the shepherds unclean. What a far-removed world they were from the story of David, the shepherd boy turned king. Having 100 sheep in Jesus’ day would either be a sign of great wealth or a huge responsibility for the one looking out for them.

The Pharisees would’ve expected the story to have been told like this: “Which one of you learned Pharisees, having 100 sheep and then learning you have lost a sheep, wouldn’t hire a servant to go find the sheep for you?”

But, that isn’t what Jesus says. He puts the dime on them.

“Which of you,” He says — He’s put the responsibility on them — “if he...” — one of the Pharisees — “...has lost one of them.”

Not someone else, but he.

Kenneth Bailey, a wonderful scholar, comments on this passage this way. He says, “Jesus is saying to His audience, “You lost your sheep, but I went after it and brought it home. Now you have the gall to come to me complaining? Don’t you realize I’m making up for your mistakes?”

See, this is a great story. This is sizzling. This is absolutely a bomb that Jesus is dropping in just a few words. I can’t even imagine what the faces were like of the people He was telling this story to. I mean, Jesus is firing on all cylinders right now. What makes this story even more powerful is at the same time that it shows God’s perfect love, it shows this perfect love for the one. And this is really important for us to get. Please listen in if you’re watching right now. Pay attention to this, because this is huge.

God shows His perfect love for going after the one. That’s what gives the other ninety-nine their security. See, if the shepherd doesn’t go after the one, then the ninety-nine know that if they ever become lost, they don’t matter. If the one is sacrificed at the alter of the ninety-nine, then the ninety-nine will never have any security at all. They will live in constant fear of being left behind. See, the value of the one gives value to the ninety-nine, not the other way around.

This clashes with the Pharisees culture. It may clash with ours. But, it reveals our Christ. His love is for the one, and that’s why we can have security. See, because Jesus would go after the one means that all of the other ones are safe. If He doesn’t go after the one, then it’s just a matter of time until one of the other ninety-nine finds itself lost and finds itself not secure. So, what would it do? It would live a life of constant fear. But, see, understanding Jesus’ perfect love, His going after the one is what gives all of us security in the fact that His perfect love alleviates our fear.

So, let me ask you a question. What’s the wind in your sails? Is your wind the grumbling of the religious? Is your wind the value of the group to the exclusion of the one? Let the wind in your sails be the one of the Savior; the one of the Savior that seeks the one.

See, when we understand that our Savior has a perfect love for His own, it’s a game changer. Listen, I know you have fears. We all have fears. Everybody, at some level, to some degree, at some extent has fears. But, let those fears get spoken to right now with the perfect love of our Savior. Wherever you find yourself right now, take a moment and really reflect on what you’ve just heard. Let God’s love for you remove the fears that you have. He’s not going to leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love. He will come to find you.

Let’s take a moment and let’s pray. Would you bow with me?

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for everyone that is listening to this message. Lord, especially our Grace family. But, Lord, I’m sure there are plenty of people that watch on the mobile app that are “mobile app-ritioners” that don’t come here regularly to the church but watch us regularly. Lord, I’m sure there are going to be some people that tune in and hear this message for the first time. Lord, I pray that what we would understand is that perfect love casts out fear. That knowing that Jesus rose from the dead alleviates the fear that we would have.

The writer to the Hebrews said, John says that and Jesus demonstrates that. Lord, it’s when we truly understand that You would leave the ninety-nine to come and get us, it means that everybody has significance. Lord, so often we would stay with the ninety-nine to the exclusion of the one, not even realizing that what we’re doing is creating a completely insecure society in doing that. Lord, in focusing on the many over the one, we create all the fears that we do.

Lord, I pray that we would repent and that we would be challenged in our hearts to understand what it truly means to be loved by the Savior. Lord, hopefully that will change our lives and the way that we love other people. Lord, I believe with all of my heart that when we understand the love You have for us and we love our neighbor as ourself, Lord, I believe that the fears, the doubts and the struggles are alleviated. Lord, I pray that that would be the case. Lord, as this message goes out to people in the midst of a storm, I pray, Lord, that the perfect love of our Savior would speak to them and let them know that You will come and get them and You will never, ever, ever leave them or forsake them.

Lord, I pray this time right now for all of those that are in the storm and for all of those that are being affected, I pray, Lord, that You would be in the midst of this storm. Lord, even though there may be destruction and there may be loss of life, I pray, Lord, that in the middle of the difficulties, You would reveal Yourself to many people for Your glory and for Your honor.

And Lord, I pray that as a church and as people that follow You, that Lord, after this storm, we will continue to do what Grace Community Church always does, and that’s to be the intentional neighbors that You’ve called us to be so that we can reach the unchurched, Lord, by showing and reflecting Christ. Lord, we thank You for this message. We thank You for what You’re speaking into our lives. We thank You, Lord, that perfect love casts out all fear. In Jesus’ name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”

I wish all of you all a great weekend, and I hope it truly goes better than expected. Know that we, as a staff, are praying for you at this time. But, more importantly, know that Jesus has your back, because He’ll come get the one, which means perfect love has found you, which means fear can be gone.

Listen, I look forward to worshiping with you all next weekend. It can’t get here soon enough. Until then, let’s continue to do what we’re called to do, which is reaching the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. God bless everybody. See you soon.

Hurricane Weekend Devotional - Part 2

Devotional Transcript

Hey, Grace, and anybody else who may watch this. This is Hurricane Irma Update 2. Again, these are just little, short devotionals to encourage you through the weekend so that you get some spiritual nuggets or some little devotion that maybe encourages you as the storm approaches or as we’re in the storm itself.

In the Epistle of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes some really powerful words. I want to read them to you and I want you to just stop whatever you’re doing and just let them speak to your heart.

Paul says that he hopes that “Christ will dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly that anything that we could ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul encourages the Ephesians to understand the love of God. And I’m going to tell you something: When you’re going through struggles and you’re going through doubts and you’re going through fears, the one thing that will get you through all of it is to know the love that your Heavenly Father has for you and me. And what I love that Paul says — although there’s all these great words in there about understanding the depth, the height, and all the love of God.

He has a little key here that clues us in to how we can truly get this message. He says, “According to the power that works within us.”

Did you know that God lives within you? Did you know that God’s Spirit lives within you? Did you know that the resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is within you? If you have that power, then nothing can defeat you because death couldn’t even defeat Jesus. If that power lives within us, then nothing can defeat you and me. So, I hope that encourages you right now as we’re probably maybe in the middle of the storm or the storm is approaching. I just pray that you would let these words that Paul spoke thousands of years ago speak to you and to know that God loves you, He’s aware of what you’re going through right now, and you can make it through this, because the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead lives within you and me.

Isn’t that a great word? Rest on that today. See you soon.